Tewkesbury: “such evil lanes”.

There’s been a slight pause in both gaming and blogging, while I’ve been away on a family visit to Leamington Spa. While there, however, I did have opportunities for a few related activities. The obligatory trawl of local charity shops turned up a couple of board games; and I was able to visit both the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury, and the Roman fort at Lunt.

For now, Tewkesbury. As it happens, we’d picked a day of heavy showers, which is probably not ideal for tramping across boggy fields. In fact it was raining so hard when we arrived at the town that we spent our first half hour in Tewkesbury sitting in the car, in the car park, eating sandwiches while the weather took its time to settle down a bit.

Not the most auspicious of beginnings. But the rain eventually cleared, and we walked into town along Gloucester Road, taking our time to check out the heraldic banners – belonging to various noblemen who fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury – festooning the houses along the route and, in fact, pretty much every building in the town centre. The banners are apparently a regular feature over the summer months, organised by the Tewkesbury Battlefield Society (a fine example of what such a local society can bring to a town) and you can read a little more about them at http://tewkesbury.org.uk/projects/.  Actually, not all necessarily belonged to noblemen.  We did notice the banner of the memorably-named Doctor Mackerel, who apparently was among those Lancastrians captured after their defeat, but whose lives were spared.

At this point, to save me repeating (and probably not so well) an account of the battle that has been written over and over elsewhere, here’s a handy link to a brief description of what actually happened in 1471:  http://www.battlefieldsofbritain.co.uk/battle_tewkesbury_1471.html

A quick visit to the Tourist Information Centre, then we located the Tewkesbury Museum. Which is tiny, and really is like a local museum for local people, the kind that is generally staffed by friendly if eccentric volunteers, and is irredeemably disorganised. The point of interest here, for anyone exploring the 1471 battle, is a large diorama that was built in 1971 to mark the 500th anniversary. Given its date of construction, it’s hardly surprising that this is populated with Airfix plastic figures from the same venerable ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ and ‘Robin Hood’ sets that supplied most wargamers’ mediaeval armies at the time, along with a few wagons that I recognised from the Airfix ‘Wagon Train’ turned onto their sides as a makeshift barricade on the left of the Lancastrian line.

Diorama 1
The Lancastrian army is on the left, here, with the Yorkists advancing from the right.
Diorama 2
Yorkist horse charge down from their hiding place on the wooded hill, to attack the Lancastrian right flank.
Diorama 3
View (albeit a blurry one) from behind the Yorkist centre.  The building in the background is Gupshill Manor – the queue for the bar must have been long, that day…
Diorama 4
Yorkists on the left, Lancastrians on the right.  The River Swilgate is in the foreground.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive. As it happens, I think the diorama is quite well done, and rather evocative. And luckily it’s avoided the sort of dire fate that notoriously befell the 1966 diorama of the Battle of Hastings once Hastings Council laid hands on that…*

On, at last, to the battlefield itself. There’s an official Battle Trail very helpfully signposted from the centre of Tewkesbury. Wait, did I just type “helpfully”? Let me put it this way. If the idea is to confuse would-be battlefield walkers, this has been successfully achieved. One end of the trail is indicated, but not the other. The path, once you’ve gone across the Gaston Field (now playing fields) behind the abbey and climbed the hill, comes to a fork where there is no signpost to indicate whether it continues down a narrow and overgrown pathway skirting the cemetery, through the cemetery itself, or through the housing estate (for the record, it turned out to be the alleyway). Emerging back onto the main Gloucester Road, it then takes you back towards the town, avoiding what would have been a very welcome break at Gupshill Manor, which was a feature on the 1471 battlefield – it’s that half-timbered building on the diorama – and is now a pub, perversely left off the Battle Trail by several hundred yards. My recommendation, for anyone trying this walk, is to turn left on the Gloucester Road at this point and head to the Gupshill Manor for a drink or two before going any further!

Gaston Field 1
A view across the Gaston Field towards Tewkesbury Abbey.
Gaston Field 2
As above.  The monument to the left memorialises the battle.
Gaston Field 3
These information boards have been placed at a few points along the route of the Battle Trail.

Back towards the town, past the Aldi supermarket, the Trail cuts to the left across another open field to Bloody Meadow. At this point, we were both in need of refreshments, and were a bit put off in any case by the gathering of fresh rain clouds and the idea of wallowing through the mud, so instead of following the route any further we just kept on walking back into town and to a debriefing session at the Berkeley Arms. Where the discovery of a very nice rum-infused ale called Swordfish, and the pub’s handy 2-pint-takeout service, did help to compensate for any disappointments along the walk.

To Bloody Meadow
Bloody meadow is over there, across this field…

In summary, then, not the most successful expedition that we’ve ever set out upon. But it has at least served to rekindle my interest in the Wars of the Roses. And the book of British battlefield walks has subsequently been taken down from its place gathering dust on my bookshelves.

Note on the title: The phrase, “such evil lanes”, is a quote from a contemporary description of the battle and the ground over which it was fought.  Modern Tewkesbury seems quite a pleasant little town.

Note on the *: In case anyone doesn’t already know the story, apparently (as it was told to me) Tony Bath was commissioned to build a diorama representing the Battle of Hastings, to commemorate the 900th anniversary.  He built a proper reconstruction of the battle using large numbers of 30mm “flat” figures.  Unfortunately, after a while, Hastings Council chose to rip this apart and replace it with a scene of 14th Century armoured knights galloping around on horseback in front of some gaudily coloured tents.  So much for history.

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